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A thought-provoking book
Mar 02, 2004 08:32 PM 54378 Views
(Updated Mar 02, 2004 08:32 PM)



If the nineteenth century belonged to Europe, the twentieth century to the United States, then the twenty-first century will definitely belong to the Indians.

This is the dream translated to millions of Indians through the pens of two eminent scientists of India ? Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Dr. Y.S. Rajan in their book, India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium. Kalam envisions India to attain the status of the fourth developed nation of the world by 2020.He envisions an India where the national economy of the country is one of the largest in the world; there is upliftment in the general living standards of the common man well above the poverty line including high standards of education, health and above all, national security. According to Kalam, there are four chief areas of development ? the people, economy, strategic strength and infrastructure and to achieve all this, technology is the answer.

The role of technology will not only be to provide ?sophisticated? machinery and the like but also to provide materials of basic utility value to the common man at an affordable price. Technology should not only produce goods but also explore ways to re-use by-products so as to minimize wastage and environmental pollution. Thus technology should not only be for the classes but for the masses.

Kalam defends his theory of exploitation of technology by saying ? ?If you don?t have the technology, you natural resources is of no value to you?. He compares Japan with Africa and shows how the former has progressed despite a dearth of natural resources through technological creativity alone whereas a ?rich? continent like Africa has been unable to do so because of lack of fundamental technology. However, once again citing the example of Japan, Kalam says that although technology is the key to realize our vision, the craving to reach the goal should encompass all sections of society if the vision has to be transformed into reality.

This brings us to the all-important question: ?Why do we need a vision?? Kalam answers this question by citing the examples of countries like USA, Malaysia, Israel and China and points out that they are what they are today because they had a vision and they strived towards it.

Through various nicely correlated statistical data, Kalam proves that Vision 2020 is certainly not unattainable and corroborates this further by giving several examples from past successes e.g., the Green Revolution, the development of space technology which started from scratch, to our present-day situation of our very own satellite-based communication system.

The author however stresses on two important facts to achieve this vision ? sensitization to problems and a will to achieve. To be able to achieve this vision, one should rise above one?s routine, mundane problems and try and achieve something across the ordinary: at the same time taking care of the feasibility of the project. This means that although at the time of articulation of vision, the goal may perhaps appear to be improbable but at no point of time should it seem to be impossible.

Kalam has systematically outlined the problems, listed the present solutions that are being offered, identified their merits and demerits and then, finally suggests not one but a series of measures so that the most feasible one amongst them can be adopted. For example, in the health care sector, he has categorized not only the present-day diseases but also envisioned the future diseases and disorders. He identifies the root cause of the problem and defines it to be societal conditions for the rich and lack of money and basic facilities for the poor as being the main bases for many diseases. He points out how technology can come to the fore by helping to map out mosquito-breeding areas (to eradicate malaria) by using remote sensing satellite or the use of defense lasers to treat glaucoma and cataract in the eye.

This does not mean that Kalam overlooks our natural resources or heritage. He emphasizes the need to tap indigenous resources, our rich heritage of natural herbs as well as tribal systems of medicine He even feels the need to reach out to other civilizations and adopt what is relevant from them, e.g. the Chinese acupuncture technique.

To tackle the burning issues of food, agriculture, health care, service sector, etc., he feels that an interdisciplinary approach is required. According to him, ?For a nation to progress, the golden triangle of research and development laboratories ? academia ? industry has to emerge?.

Kalam however warns that in trying to realize our vision, we should not imitate the ideas of other nations but should try and create novel and innovative solutions that is best suited to solve our inherent problems e.g. instead of using plastics, we can use biodegradable tapioca lined paper packages.

Modernization, he says, should not make the common man apprehensive as lack of it will lead to inefficiency and lower levels of customer gratification. On the other hand, one should be able to anticipate the changes which are likely to occur as a result of modernization and adapt accordingly.

Kalam feels that by being self-reliant, our self-confidence is boosted; our technology becomes A-grade thereby raising the standard of products and above all, the question of indebtedness to any other nation is eliminated.

The author however, stresses a bit too heavily on defense expenditure. He justifies it by saying ?Only strength respects strength? This view however, is more in collusion with the thoughts of our politicians and leaders, rather than intellectuals.

Kalam has also bypassed certain major issues such as corruption, disruption, destabilization and complacency, whose eradication is vital for the realization of Vision 2020.

The book is also fractionally tilted towards the contribution of the defense and space research laboratories. Some more emphasis could have been laid on the equally well, if not better, research carried out by some of the other research organizations apart from these two sectors. However, coming from two men who have been primarily attached to these two sectors for the greater part of their lives, perhaps this omission can be justified.

Written in the context of the report filed by TIFAC (Technology Information Forecasting and Assessment Cell), which launched a major exercise called Technology Vision for India up to 2020, this book tries to encompass the findings of over 500 experts from different sections of the society. Apart from this, more than 5000 people contributed their ideas indirectly through questionnaires. Some of these thoughts have been put forth in this book by systematically categorizing it into different sectors.

Kalam explains that developments in science and technology have to reach all parts of society, only then can India be truly labeled as a developed country. He describes this developmental process as one in continuum. We should not rest in the laurels of our past achievements but should try and improve ourselves towards higher and higher standards. Thus the process of development should transcend all generations.

The foundation for this should be laid at the grass-root level. Kalam shows faith in the young generation by calling them ?the ignited minds? in whom he says the dream to realize the vision should be enthused.

We cannot but whole-heartedly agree with the author that to achieve our Vision 2020, we should settle our superficial differences and think and act as ?Indians?. Nobody can take us there but ourselves.

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